When Mujeeb Ijaz started his career in electric vehicle technology three decades ago, the key hindrance in widespread EV adoption was range.
Now, as Ijaz leads his own startup toward battery production, he believes the key hindrance remains range.
"What's important for the electrification movement to really take hold and to penetrate into the market of consumers really accepting electric vehicles, at the heart of it, I believe, is the attribute of range," said Ijaz, who marked the one-year anniversary of his Michigan startup, Our Next Energy Inc., last week.
Of course, much has changed since his early days. Back then, automakers produced prototypes that touted ranges of 50 miles; now, they are churning out full-electric vehicles with stated driving ranges above 300 miles on a single charge — in some cases, more than 500 miles. As technology has advanced, an industry has coalesced around big plans for EV proliferation over the next decade.
But for widespread market adoption to actually flourish, Ijaz, the company's CEO, says another leap in range is needed to quell lingering anxiety.
"I think we're going to have to go higher," he said.
That's the premise upon which he founded Our Next Energy. Over the past year, the company has developed its own chemistry and pack designs, which include a new architecture that contains two separate chemistries within the same platform.
On the design front, the company doesn't treat battery cells as precious "eggs in a basket," Ijaz said, but makes them part of the battery-pack structure.
At the outset, the company targeted energy density in a given battery that could achieve 450 watt-hours per liter across the system, roughly double industry standards today. One of the ways engineers have done that is by scaling back anode materials found in conventional batteries. That makes more space for cathode material that improves energy density, eschewing traditional nickel-cobalt in favor of materials they believe offer both better performance and safety.
Our Next Energy's strategy didn't only save space — it offered further gains in terms of safety through the use of less volatile chemistry. And it helped Ijaz consider where raw materials are sourced in his efforts to build an ecosystem for EV technology.
"I generally don't think that it's sustainable to go after a nickel-cobalt-based world of batteries in electric vehicles," Ijaz said. "You can't geographically get all the materials for battery technologies globally, and that's a constraint on supply."
That's been a growing concern for Ijaz, who spent almost 16 years at Ford before departing in 2008 to be chief technology officer at battery developer A123 Systems Inc. He then spent six years working as senior director of special projects in energy storage at Apple Inc. before founding Our Next Energy. The startup is funded in part through angel investors. It is currently assembling a Series A financing round.